Changes at the Symphony

Houston Symphony launches search for new CEO after Mark Hanson leaves for San Francisco

Houston Symphony launches search for CEO after Hanson leaves for SF

The Influentials Mark Hanson September 2013
Mark Hanson, in this 2013 photo, is headed to San Francisco. Photo by © Michelle Watson/

After a busy and productive seven-year stint as the Houston Symphony's top executive, Mark Hanson is headed to California. Officials announced on Friday that Hanson, 43, will take on a new role as executive director of the San Francisco Symphony on September 1.

The Houston Symphony will launch a national search for a new executive director and CEO led by the Catherine French Group, a national executive search firm focused on the arts, and chaired by David Pruner, a symphony board member and chair of the Strategic Planning Committee.

Since arriving in Houston in 2010 from Milwaukee, Hanson oversaw the Houston Symphony's 100th anniversary, orchestrated an emotional farewell to outgoing music director Hans Graf, and generated excitement with the hiring of Andrés Orozco-Estrada as the symphony's first Hispanic music director. Luring the Colombian-born conductor to Houston was part of Hanson's grand plan to make the symphony more accessible to an increasingly diverse city. Orozco-Estrada recently agreed to a contract extension and will continue to lead the orchestra through the 2021-22 season.

Hanson put the symphony on firmer financial footing with a record-setting fundraising campaign and successfully negotiated contracts with orchestra members. During Hanson's tenure, the symphony budget grew from $25 million to $34 million and total attendance has increased by nearly 20 percent.

He also expanded the number of free performances at Jones Hall as well as outings to churches, schools, and community centers in outlying areas as part of a grand strategy to entice more people to check out the orchestra. The symphony established a Community-Embedded Musician program with four hybrid string players who last year offered over 700 new interactions in Houston schools, hospitals, and community centers.  

Hanson and his wife, Christina, even chaired the latest Houston Symphony Ball, a Las Vegas-themed affair which brought in $1.6 million a couple of months ago.

“I hope this will be my last orchestra job — and I know that Christina and our boys are hoping that too,” Hanson told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I’m humbled to have the opportunity to be welcomed into the San Francisco Symphony family, and I’m going to take my responsibility to help steward this organization very, very seriously.”

Until a new CEO is named, Houston Symphony chief development officer David Chambers and Amanda T. Dinitz, chief of Strategic Initiatives, will serve as co-interim executive director and will work closely with Orozco-Estrada, Houston Symphony Society board president Janet F. Clark. Clark, and the symphony's Board of Trustees.